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Interview with Margaret Wright

By Celebratio Mathematica

May 28, 2020

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Margaret H. Wright has been a leading figure in numerical analysis for more than forty years. Born in California in 1944, she earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics (1964) and a master's degree in computer science (1965) from Stanford University. For six years she worked as a programmer at GTE Sylvania. Seeking more independence and autonomy in her career, she returned to Stanford to earn a Ph.D. in computer science in 1976, under the direction of Gene Golub and Walter Murray. She then worked for 12 years as a research associate in the Systems Optimization Laboratory that George Dantzig had founded at Stanford. In 1988, Wright took a position as a researcher at AT&T Bell Labs, a place she called "paradise." In 2001, in the midst of growing uncertainty about the future of Bell Labs, she moved to the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University (NYU), where today she is the Silver Professor of Computer Science.

Wright's work, which has focused primarily on optimization, unites theoretical prowess, technical command, and real-world implementation. She has been at the center of major developments in applied mathematics, including the interior-point revolution in linear programming.

While Wright describes herself as "boring" and a "goody two-shoes," she exudes an easygoing charisma. That quality, together with her stature in research, a high level of personal integrity, and a disarming sense of humor, has made her a trusted and beloved leader in a host of administrative capacities, including as the head of the Scientific Computing Research Department at Bell Labs, as chair of the Computer Science Department at NYU, and as president of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

Among her honors are the Award for Distinguished Public Service from the American Mathematical Society (2002) and the John von Neumann Lecture Prize from SIAM (2019). She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to both the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The following interview with Wright, conducted in September and October 2019, has been edited and condensed.

From Celebratio Mathematica
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